U.S. President Barack Obama shakes the hand of German Chancellor Angela Merkel after she finished her speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on June 19, 2013. UPI/David Silpa | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The United States needs to review its intelligence gathering to ensure it is collecting information because it needs it, an Obama administration official says.
Lisa Monaco, President Obama's assistant for homeland security, said in a statement late Thursday that the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology has been established to make recommendations on how to go forward. Another board will review intelligence gathering for privacy and civil liberties issues.
"We want to ensure we are collecting information because we need it and not just because we can," Monaco said.
Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden suggest the agency hacked into the phones of foreign leaders, including U.S. allies. Officials say foreign intelligence services are being warned that Snowden has documents detailing secret cooperation with the United States, officials said.
U.S. officials said Snowden left with tens of thousands of documents, some of which included sensitive material about programs against countries such as Iran, Russia and China, The Washington Post said. Some of the documents refer to operations that involve countries not publicly allied with the United States.
The notifications come as the Obama administration is trying to soothe allies after allegations that the NSA monitored communications of foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is tasked with informing the other intelligence services, officials said.
ODNI declined the Post's request for comment.
Snowden took the documents from a top-secret network run by the Defense Intelligence Agency and used by intelligence units of the military branches, unnamed sources told the Post.
Snowden took 30,000 documents involving intelligence work of one of the services, the official said. He gained access through the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System for top-secret and-or sensitive compartmentalized information, sources said.
The material doesn't deal with NSA surveillance, but with standard intelligence about other countries' military capabilities, the officials say.
Livid European leaders warned of anti-U.S. penalties after a report said Washington eavesdropped on the phone conversations of some 35 allied world leaders.
German officials launched a legal investigation and said the escalating scandal could disrupt counter-terrorism collaboration between the United States and European Union.
Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who alleged a day earlier the NSA spied on her cellphone -- met with French President Francois Hollande about the diplomatic crisis a EU summit in Brussels.
Three days earlier, Hollande condemned alleged U.S. spying in France after documents leaked by Snowden indicated the NSA intercepted 70.3 million digital communications inside France from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for a halt to a European financial data-sharing program that targets suspected terrorists.
Other European officials attending the EU summit said efforts to create a major U.S.-EU trade deal could be damaged as well.
Many said they were shocked a potent ally they considered a friend could have tapped their personal communications -- an act The Washington Post said was long considered diplomatically off-limits.
"Spying among friends -- that just does not work," Merkel told reporters in Brussels.
"The United States and Europe face common challenges," she said, "[but] trust has to be restored."
U.S. intelligence agencies are "out of control," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose NSA counterpart agency is also accused of spying on allies, had no public comment about the U.S. spying reports.
The flurry of activity was fueled by a report published online Thursday by The Guardian. The British newspaper published what it said was a 2006 memo indicating a U.S. official provided the NSA with 200 phone numbers tied to 35 world leaders.
The memo, sourced to Snowden, said U.S. government employees were encouraged to mine their contact books for the business and personal landline, fax and cellphone numbers of "foreign political or military leaders" and pass on the details to the NSA.
President Barack Obama assured Merkel "the United States is not and will not monitor the chancellor's communications," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in Washington Thursday.
Russia has granted Snowden temporary asylum. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he does not expect the affair to affect the relationship between the United States and Russia, RIA Novosti reported.